Knight Arts Challenge in Philadelphia: my seven submissions

Today is the deadline to put 150 words together that could help change the direction of arts in Philadelphia.

The Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia is a three-year, $9 million initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. We’re seeking the best ideas in the arts. We’re investing $9 million, to be matched by other funders, to impact the arts in your hometown. We are seeking the most innovative ideas in the arts to inspire and enrich Philadelphia’s communities. [Source]

Philadelphia is just the second city in which Knight is running this arts challenge, following the foundation’s home of Miami. Get your questions answered here or submit here.

On a train ride home, I brainstormed a dozen ideas for the arts challenge, seven of which I thought were clear and concise enough that they’d be worth submitting. While only a couple directly relate to my work with technology community news site Technically Philly, as venture capitalist Fred Wilson recently wrote (H/T Karl Martino), there is great cross over between a maturing creative economy and an aged arts world.

So, I find it relevant to share what I’ve submitted, which I will do below.

First, I’d like to say that it’s clear that the Knight Foundation, in both its News Challenge and other public grant programs, has had an enormous impact on what grant applications can look like, creating a more open, transparent process and making the first step about little more than the idea so that more people and concepts come through.

If I had a lengthy grant application process staring me in the face, I’d likely have submitted none. Instead, I brainstormed and applied more than a half dozen times. Not because they’re necessarily the seven best ideas but because I felt like there was something of value there and getting those ideas into the public conversation could help foster something beautiful.

I encourage you to see a few strong suggestions from Alex Hillman and, humbly, see my own below and submit yours here.

As a side note, Hillman beautifully and importantly says this: “Having Knight resources doesn’t mean that there is a green light that we don’t already have, because we don’t wait for permission. Having Knight resources doesn’t provide the validation that these ideas are valuable, because I’m confident that they are each an evolution of already-in-progress movements.”

TITLE: Public Data Visualization Display Series
CATEGORY: Visual Arts

We would like to create a series of multimedia, interactive public art displays meant to visualize a series of important, available municipal government data sets, like campaign contributions, legislative votes, demographic shifts and more. These public data visualizations will be placed in various neighborhoods of Philadelphia that wouldn’t necessarily have access to the three fundamental, important concepts that intersect in this project: art, technology and public affairs journalism. Public art has been a mainstay of a 20th century movement to increase access to culture, and there is a growing movement of using online data visualization techniques to make important government data and information easier to understand. This project would combine those techniques in an innovative way.

TITLE: Arts Investment Pitch Event Series


We want to trial a series of art demo and pitch events, in which artists from a similar type of work share their recent work and make a pitch on new projects they want to try. In the audience, in addition to other artists, supporters, students and community leaders, will be welcomed those people and organizations interested in perhaps commissioning or otherwise supporting the direction of a proposed project. The demo portion of an artist’s presentation serves to not only inspire other artists but show to those interested in possibly supporting art work in Philadelphia what he or she has done. The pitch portion of an artist’s presentation will serve to attract those interested in collaborating, sponsoring or otherwise supporting.

TITLE: Public Arts and Media Incubation Space

We would like to create a physical space in which artists and other creative types could apply for short-term — one to three to six month — stays to work on specific projects that require certain types of space. In exchange for the space, those artists housed there would be required to set aside a certain amount of their time to training and mentoring average people, students and children in their art. A communal space would be used for public displays, interaction, collaboration and conversation. This project would help create a hub through which artists of various forms could come together.

TITLE: Flash Art Education
CATEGORY: Crafts and Traditional Arts

Working with community groups, the city’s most talented artists and intimate knowledge of the city’s neighborhoods, we will create a series of flash education and exploration sessions on a variety of art forms at dozens of street corners. Offering starter kits and information about art programs throughout the region, our team will, with some advanced promotion, land with a respective community group in different parts of the city prepared to offer a top flight display and direction of art. Picture a clutch of water colorists appearing in the Fairhill neighborhood of North Philadelphia with basic tools to give away after a display of their craft and introduction to those around. Then, a handful of violinists land on Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia to catch the eye of young people and share information about programs that could offer training.

TITLE: Oral History Public Display
CATEGORY: Visual Arts

We would like to record oral histories about specific neighborhoods from those who know them best, which would then be shared and displayed in different neighborhoods of the city. Philadelphia, they say, is a city of neighborhoods. Still, the city is not known for fostering much conversation, knowledge and respect for people of various neighborhoods. Collaborating with existing organizations, groups and initiatives in Philadelphia, like PhilaPlace and First Person Arts, we would create installations in various neighborhoods that use audio and visual media to tell the stories of a different neighborhood. The project could be rotated throughout the city before bringing it together in a central space to better foster understanding and appreciation of different neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

TITLE: Community Mass Transit Takeover
CATEGORY: Visual Arts

We would like to improve using multimedia art a small selection of mass transit stations in Philadelphia. Recognizing that the city’s subway, train, trolley and bus stations are the hubs of many communities, we would use public art of various forms to create an atmosphere more representative of that specific neighborhood’s distinct history, culture and influence. Partnering with SEPTA, the Mural Arts Program community groups and individuals, we could create large scale interactive, public art displays to unite with Philadelphia’s famed murals and find other ways to make select stations more neighborhood specific, like having a respected community member be the recorded voice of that station or stop, both in its on-transit announcement and in related directives and announcements. This project could spur forward many existing plans and proposals and would encourage other neighborhoods and groups to do similar work, in beautifying and localizing our mass transit.

TITLE: Cross-platform Arts Community Calendar and Database

Recognizing the disparate silos in Philadelphia’s arts communities, we would like to create an easily shared, updated and spread community calendar and database of  arts events, projects and installations throughout the city. This project will be heavy on collaboration, working with,, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp.’s and, allowing high art, public art, contemporary art, tourism staples and technology and design communities to come together to show the strongest, broadest voice. Highlighting all of what the city’s art communities have to offer will encourage collaboration and foster greater reach.

These are only ideas and just my own. What are yours? Submit them here.

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